December 2, 2020
By Mariah Omer, AFJN Intern

Both the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) prohibit the overthrow of democratically elected governments by the process of a coup. Did their response to the recent military coup d’état in Mali further undermine their position on this issue?  Did the AU’s and ECOWAS’ acceptance of a semi-civilian and military transitional government in Mali formalize a new agenda for military takeovers of an elected government?

Mali, a West African country, and an active member of ECOWAS has recently experienced yet another military coup, its second in eight years. The  August 18, 2020 coup d’état in Mali which removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta from power was carried out by Colonel Assimi Goïta and his companions in arms. The reaction of the AU and ECOWAS was swift. The AU suspended Mali’s membership and ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Mali which included closing its borders and banning transnational trade. However, these sanctions were lifted when former Mali’s defense minister Bah Nadwi was named President of Mali’s transitional government, the coup leader Colonel Assini Goiter Vice-President and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Moctar Ouane as Prime Minister.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance of the African Union stipulates that “Any putsch or coup d’état against a democratically elected government, any intervention by mercenaries to replace a democratically elected government, any replacement of a democratically elected government by armed dissidents or rebels is unconstitutional.” (Art. 23, & 1-3) The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance also states that the bloc has “Zero tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means.”  Additionally, “The armed forces must be apolitical and must be under the command of a legally constituted political authority; no serving member of the armed forces may seek to run for elective political [office].” (Chap. I, Sect. 1 & e)

The AU’s and ECOWAS’ acceptance of a semi-civilian and military power sharing government has evolved into a transitional government. The recognition of a modified state can obviously be interpreted as a new formula which seeks to legitimize coup d’états. These military upheavals are prohibited by their respective normative texts which have been ratified by Mali and other member states. 

While we cannot disregard the value of why the coup leaders stepped in to protect Mali from an irresponsible government, the AU’s and ECOWAS’ actions must aim at preventing another coup d’état. The prohibition of military coups is meant to promote the creation of strong institutions. If they function as they are designed, it should take into consideration the social, economic, and political issues which the coup leaders usually claim that they want to solve. The unpredictability of military coups and its usurpation of people and their sovereignty, among other things, does not inspire change.

The AU and ECOWAS should not have lifted their sanctions with Colonel Assini Goiter, as Vice-President. The criticism of the AU’s and ECOWAS’s acceptance of a semi-civilian and military government, after the coup d’état in Mali, is lacking consistency when it comes to the respect of their own normative texts. The reason is to harness the full benefits for which these standards were put in place. According to Chapter I, Section 1 &e of The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance  “No serving member of the armed forces may seek to run for elective political [office], the AU and ECOWAS should not have lifted their sanctions. The only options in the case of Mali or any other potential coup leaders is to hand over power to civilian leadership and return to military service or leave the army to bid for any political office during or after the transition. The army’s vocation is to protect the people, the institutions and the territorial sovereignty.” Considering this, it seems reasonable to deduce that a transitional government typically wants to defend their actions and then achieve well-rounded outcomes.  

It was time for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to leave. His regime was characterized by bad governance including, but not limited to, the disregard for the rule of law, corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement.  He presided over a country torn apart by extreme Islamist insurgency and inter-communal violence. At the same time, many Malians continued to live in extreme poverty, deprived of daily essentials, and this was on-going despite the nation’s abundant resources. In recognition of Mali’s coup leaders, for their patriotic action in helping to prevent the country from plunging deeper in the chaos, they should have been given positions of responsibilities in the army, where they belong.

Edited by Ntama Bahati Jacques